Every two years, "Solo," a culmination of the McKnight Artist Fellowship Program for dancers, gives some of Minnesota's best dancers the opportunity to shine. The program provides funding to commission a choreographer for each dancer to create a new solo work.
It's a wonderful opportunity for local dancers, but it has a drawback. The balancing act between the benefits for the artists and satisfaction for the audience tends to tip toward the former. This year's "Solo," performed this weekend at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis, had both hits and misses.
The pieces worked best when the dancers made ambitious choices in selecting choreographers. Sally Rousse's collaboration with London choreographer Arthur Pita and Alanna Morris-Van Tassel's pairing with Israeli Idan Sharabi resulted in works that allowed both dancers to step out of their comfort zones.
In Pita's "a Sheila dance," Rousse embraced a fun mixture of jagged lines and casual vernacular. Dressed in a glittery show girl leotard with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, Rousse relished in a delightfully theatrical divertissement.
"Solo un poco" by Sharabi, meanwhile, thrust Morris-Van Tassel into a daring exposé of body and soul. From the moment Morris Van-Tassel awkwardly greeted the audience with a wave and a "Hi!" to when she dove into a spastic convulsion on the floor, she unearthed a vital spirit that bore no pretense and was bewitching to behold.
Choreographer Tamara Ober's work with Brian J. Evans, on the other hand, felt unfinished. Using a poem called "Mockingbird" by the spoken-word poet Rives as a jumping-off point, Evans at times danced and at times spoke Rives' words, using various strategically placed microphones around the stage. The transitions between movement and poetry never gelled, however, and as a result, the work felt discombobulated.
Similarly, "untitled 10 072616," choreographed by Deja Stowers and danced by Kenna-Camara Cottman, had inspired moments, but ultimately appeared to be more of a sketch than a finished piece.
San Francisco-based choreographer Lauren Simpson's "Still Life No. 5," performed by Max Wirsing, felt small in scale. Wirsing spent most of the time on the floor, employing gestural work with his arms and hands. The work ended up being internal, rather than opening up to the audience.
Kaleena Miller's tap performance of New Yorker Derick K. Grant's "Cheerleader" was the most fully realized. Miller wasn't doing anything out of her realm (we all know she can tap), but her work with Grant allowed her to go deeper into the form. Her rousing and intricate artistry proved a glimmering finale to the evening.
Sheila Regan is a Twin Cities dance critic and arts journalist.